As the robotic voice of my Google Maps app on my phone directed me to a residential area of Framingham, Massachusetts, I have to admit I am nervous. I am using an Airbnb for the first time and unreasonable fears are creeping into my head about whether or not I will be safe in the room I am renting for the night. Ultimately, I know that these fears are without merit, but there was the split second between ringing the doorbell and the door opening where I thought about making a run for it. However, my fears allayed as a kind pair of eyes meet my gaze and invite me in.
You may be wondering why I am in Framingham, MA? Well, a good friend of mine, who is on a lager quest this Summer, told me about a place called Jack’s Abby, a brewery that makes fantastic lagers and has epic food. I was happy to make the hour’s pilgrimage to Framingham to start my greater Massachusetts part of my beercation. However, a minor snafu in my brain’s processing the hours of operation on Jack’s Abby’s website has me checking into Framingham on the only night of the week when they aren’t open. I discover this only after I booked my Airbnb, so I am kind of stuck. As it turns out, a longtime friend of mine, Anna, is in Framingham for business and is able to hang out with me on Monday night. Since Jack’s Abby is closed, I figure a decent plan B is one of the better craft beer bars in America, Armsby Abbey. Armsby Abbey is located in Worcester, MA, which is just a hop, skip, and a lot of weird winding roads that go by several Price Chopper franchises away. In my head, I imagine people with the heavy New England accents working as greeters and saying, “Welcome to the choppah,” and that is incredibly amusing to me.
Anna texts me saying she is a couple minutes out and I sit out on the stoop to await her arrival. I am being entertained by a few of the neighbors in the duplex across the street arguing about the placement of the tomato plants in a shared front “yAHd”. Anna pulls up and as I get in the car, I see that she is laughing hysterically. Picking up on the fact that she sees the situation as absurd as I do, I begin to chuckle as well. She begins to share her amusement of the tan-line that one of the arguing neighbors had amidst his arm tatoos and sleeveless tank top. I am beginning to wonder whether or not the 45 dollar Airbnb is such a good idea.
We continue on our drive noticing how pretty this part of the country is. There are rolling hills and lakes punctuated by the setting sun, which only seems to enhance the majesty of the surroundings. As we get into Worcester, it is a pretty town. Lots of older architecture has Anna’s wheels spinning and she is ready to Instagram the hell out of this place.
We park the car and walk around a bit before we head into Armsby Abbey. I am excited to try my first-ever taste of Hill Farmstead beer that they have on tap. The draft list is solid and just when we think it doesn’t get any better, we start looking at the food menu. So many things to choose from and all menu items are made with locally sourced ingredients.
We decide on food and I order a Hill Farmstead Edward, an American Pale Ale. I am entranced by the hop aroma coming out of my tulip glass. The fluffy head on my beer is capping a hazy and slightly golden beer. The aroma of grassy, spicy, and piney are preparing my mouth for a significant hop bit, but the flavor is smooth with more pineapple and citrus notes that are balanced with mild bitterness.
As it always does with Anna and I, the chatter centers on lighter fare like stories about our better halves and ridiculous reminiscing about high school. Before we know it, we are laughing til our stomachs hurt. My second craft beer was Hill Farmstead Sumner, another hazy and aromatically sensational American Pale Ale. I am happily ordering all that I can find from Hill Farmstead on tap because it is one of the most talked about breweries in the country.
As the food arrives, I am drooling at the myriad of delicious culinary concoctions that are laid out before us. Anna ordered broccoli that looks amazing and some mac and cheese that has me envious. I went with a fish sandwich and am regretting it as I stare longingly at the mac and cheese. We realize that time is getting away from us and we head back to Framingham. Anna drops me off and we joke that if I am murdered in the night by crazy neck chain tanline dude, at least my last meal was epic and came with a lot of great beer.
I heard I had to get the wings because they are a revelation and I am never one to disagree with revelation-style wings. I get there and there are maybe a handful of other people there and I stake out my place at the end of a long U-shaped bar. Tommy is the young man working the bar and he gets me situated right off the bat with a water and my first tray of tasters. Since my buddy Ken has been singing the praises of these lagers for about a year, I worry that I might have set my expectations bar a little high. However, as I begin tasting, I realize that the beers are having no trouble clearing the bar.
In my humble opinion, a true test of a brewer’s mettle is how they brew a Pilsner. Since this style is so simplistic in regards to ingredients, there is absolutely nowhere for a flaw to hide. The brewer at Jack’s Abby understands this art as their Sunnyside Pils is hitting all the right notes as far as mouthfeel and flavor. I love that it has a nice biscuity malt character and finishes with a subtle hoppy bite at the end. All the while, the mouthfeel of the beer is clean and crisp, a hallmark of this what this style should be. I am not usually a huge fan of India Pale Lagers, but the Hoponius Union is going to great depths to change that. The clean and crisp mouthfeel while bursting with Calypso, Centennial, Citra, and Equinox hops. After the India Pale Lager, I am onto the Black Lager, the Smoke and Dagger; a complex and extraordinary beer.
The roasted wings arrive right on time. I think that Tommy is concerned with the glazed over look on my face. To him, I probably look like a man who is on the verge of some type of out-of-body experience. Tommy is not wrong, I am in a craft beer state of bliss and that is now combined with wings whose aroma is giving my olfactory senses the equivalent of a deep tissue massage.
The wings are crisp, with a decent char and have been generously seasoned with herbs and sea salt. As I pick the first one up, I feel my fingerprints on my fingers going the way of the Dodo bird and Hypercolor t-shirts. I don’t care because I believe it was a sweaty headband-wearing Richard Simmons who coined the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” Tears are streaming down my cheeks, and it is not because of the impending skin graft, but the fact that these might be some of the best wings I have ever had. The crazy thing is that they aren’t sauced and they don’t need any dipping sauce; just simple and well-prepared.
As I make my way onto other beers, I realized that there is no way I am going to be able to try all 22 offerings. They have a barrel-aged beer called the Framinghammer, that comes in several variants. The regular barrel-aged beer has great balance between roasty malt bitterness and the sweetness in the beer. The variants of the original that I try are the PB&J and the Mole, both of which are fantastic. Eventually, it is time to head to the next stop and I have to bid Tommy and the wings from heaven farewell. Jack’s Abby has great food and tremendously well-crafted Lagers. I am thankful to my friend Ken for recommending this place and I grab a few bottles to stow away in the suitcase for him along with a tin sign for my basement.
Night Shift Brewing Company
My next stop takes me back east, towards Boston and Night Shift Brewing Company. I know that this place will have great beer because almost everyone I talk to says I have to go there. It is located just outside of Boston in the Everett neighborhood. The name of the brewery is an illustration of how the owners first started brewing as a hobby during the evenings. It has ballooned into a larger location than the one they started at in 2012.
They have a variety of styles that they brew and an easily marketable owl logo. I sat down at the bar and started with a flight of 4 beers on a bow-shaped flight board. The Harborside Gose brewed with oysters jumps out at me and I figure my affinity for brininess will really appreciate this beer. Refreshing, crisp, and tart. Oysters add a nice accent of salinity in this beer and I am certainly impressed. From the Gose, I move down the line to the Whirlpool, an American Pale Ale. This beer is smooth and refreshing with a lot of peach in the aroma. The hop profile is citrusy making this a nice beer to help counter the heat of a Massachusetts summer.
A few nights ago at Lord Hobo, I chat with a gal who is getting up early the following morning to come to a bottle release at Night Shift for their Lechedor, an Horchata-style Milk Stout aged in an Apple-Brandy barrel. I am ecstatic that this beer is still on tap because it sounds so good. My prediction is correct and there is a ton of different flavor pings on my beer radar. Sweetness, a hint of chili spice, chocolate, vanilla, and the barrel presence all play in the flavor park like best friends from the neighborhood. This is a special beer and I recommend that if you are one who likes to trade for fun stuff, get your butt on Beer Advocate and ship this to your doorstep!
Along with great craft beers, there were a few people and we get chatting about the craft beer scene in Minnesota and they are happy to hear that I am enjoying my time in Massachusetts. They like the sound of where I have been so far and are happy to give me some ideas for the Vermont leg of the trip. The folks at the bar recommend that I hit Idle Hands on my way out of town since it is just a few minutes away. I thank them for their suggestion, get some swag and hit the road.
Idle Hands Craft Ales
The Idle Hands Craft Ales location is very new. They previously brewed at a location in Everett, but now they are in Malden. They reopened on July 7th, and as I sit at the bar, they are roughly a week old at this new locale. They have 5 beers on tap and I order 4, skipping the highest gravity offering so I can safely drive to my next location in Ipswich. The beers are served by two lovely young ladies who know a lot about the Massachusetts craft beer scene and don’t mind me picking their brains about that very topic.
The craft beers at Idle Hands are Belgian-inspired and I figure I am in for a treat. Belgian style craft beers are a polarizing lot due to the unique esters that Belgian yeasts create. Some describe these esters as funky, I describe them as delicious. I am excited to dive into the four tasters that have been placed before me in a square crate tasting tray.
My first taste of the Emelyn, a Zwickl Lager, is refreshing. The Emelyn in unfiltered and cloudy beer, and has nice malty notes as well as some fruity esters from the yeast. The Patriarch, a Belgian table beer, is on the lighter end and also has a great malt character. There is more estery spice in this one and so far, I am liking the Belgian inspiration that Idle Hands is harnessing in their beers. The Two Seam, a session IPA, is a reference to the fact that this beer hasless heat than a regular fastball. This is the beer that I like the least because it seems out of place amidst some pretty stellar Belgian varieties, but there is a nice citrus hop flavor and it isn’t a bad beer by any means. I finish up with the Blanche de Grâce, a Belgian Wit. I love this style and I love the iteration that Idle Hands brews. Nice citrus and coriander flavor along with a spicy yeast character that makes me want to spend the night here.
All in all, I am thankful for the recommendation that the patrons at Night Shift Brewing gave me. I am sad that I cannot spend more time, but I have to get up to Ipswich Ale Brewery for dinner. I say my goodbyes and thank the beertenders for being so friendly and making my visit a positive one.
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